Hero pilot rewarded with ban for safely landing plane


An Iranian pilot who pulled off a spectacular emergency landing, using only the rear wheels of a Boeing 727, has been rewarded by Iranian authorities with a flying ban.

When the Iran Air flight from Moscow to Tehran came in to land in the Iranian capital last month, the front landing gear would not extend. In an extraordinary manoeuvre that was captured on video, pilot Hooshang Shahbazi managed to bring the plane in to land at Mehrabad Airport with the nose pointing slightly in the air. The plane glided across the runway balanced on the rear wheels only, before the nose hit the tarmac with a thud when the plane had already slowed down considerably.

On internet forums frequented by professional pilots, there has been nothing but admiration for the professionalism involved in landing the plane, which was 40 years old and was carrying 94 passengers and 19 crew, all of whom escaped unharmed. In his homeland, however, instead of being feted as a hero, Mr Shahbazi has been suspended from flying for two months while authorities investigate.

The pilot complained about his treatment to the reform-minded newspaperEtemaad. He noted the lionising of American pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who landed an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River in 2009, after the engines cut out after the plane was hit by a flock of birds, and compared it to his own case. “They have not even called to say thank you,” he said.

He also claimed that he had diverted the plane to Mehrabad Airport, Tehran's second airport, instead of attempting to land as planned at the flagship Imam Khomeini Airport, fearing that a crash there would have embarrassed the regime more. “That would have been a disaster, also politically,” he said.

One of the Russian passengers on board, Oleg Gordeyev, told Russian website LifeNews yesterday that the captain had made no announcement about the danger the flight was in. Instead, passengers noticed that the plane seemed to be circling interminably above the same area, and saw panic on the faces of the air stewardesses. The pilots were circling in order to use up as much fuel as possible before attempting the risky landing, to minimise the chance of fire when the plane touched down. The passengers realised that something was seriously wrong when one of the air hostesses broke down in hysterics, and the other members of the cabin crew had to lock her in a toilet, said Mr Gordeyev.

A few minutes before landing, the pilots informed passengers that there would be an emergency landing, and told them to take up the brace position. “It was scary,” recalled Mr Gordeyev. “But when we landed, we didn't feel much, just a small bump when the plane's nose touched the runway.” After the landing, passengers jumped from the aircraft through the emergency exits.

The 40-year-old plane, belonging to national carrier Iran Air, had been banned from flying in the EU, but was put to use on the Moscow route. A spokesperson for Iran Air said that the plane had suffered only superficial damage, and will be put back into service after repairs are carried out. Iran has one of the worst air safety records of any country. Earlier this year, another Boeing 727 belonging to Iran Air travelling the internal route from Tehran to the city of Urmia crashed when coming into land in bad weather, killing 77 people.

Crash landing in Warsaw

A Boeing 767 with 230 people on board has made an emergency landing at Warsaw airport, apparently without its landing gear. It appears the Polish Lot aircraft, en route from New York, circled the city to burn up fuel and allow emergency crews to gather in preparation for the landing. A spokesman for the airline said none of the passengers was injured.